This evening veteran rocker Steve Miller will be inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Miller has had a high-profile career as the singer/songwriter/guitarist of The Steve Miller Band. Few people are aware of the fact that a young Miller collaborated in the studio with Paul McCartney a year before the break-up of The Beatles.
Miller was in London in May 1969 to record Brave New World, the third album of The Steve Miller Band and the first one since the departure of band member Boz Scaggs. The day of 9 May 1969 marked a bitter fight among the four members of The Beatles. The previous day, Lennon, Harrison and Starr had signed financial management contracts with Allen Klein but Paul did not toe the line. The three stormed out of Olympic Studios leaving McCartney alone there to stew. Steve Miller happened to come in ahead of time, and had a conversation with McCartney, who needed a sympathetic ear. Miller asked if he could use the studio, and Paul agreed if he could play drums. Miller’s producer Glyn Johns arrived shortly thereafter and together Miller and the Beatle recorded the song “My Dark Hour” on which Paul provided bass, drums, guitar and backing vocals. Miller handled all the other instruments. McCartney was not credited under his own name, but rather under Paul Ramon, his occasional pseudonym from 1960 in the struggling days of the band that would soon be known as The Beatles.
McCartney also provided backing vocals on the track “Celebration”. In addition, the song “Space Cowboy” features the exact primary riff as “Lady Madonna”, which naturally has always fueled speculation that McCartney gave Miller permission to do so because they were working in the studio together.
The Fab Four bass player elaborated on his collaboration with Steve Miller in the book Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now by Barry Miles:
“Steve Miller happened to be there recording, late at night, and he just breezed in. ‘Hey, what’s happening, man? Can I use the studio?’ ‘Yeah!’ I said. ‘Can I drum for you? I just had a terribly unholy argument with the guys there.’ I explained it to him, took ten minutes to get it off my chest. So I did a track, he and I stayed that night and did a track of his called My Dark Hour. I thrashed everything out on the drums. There’s a surfeit of aggressive drum fills, that’s all I can say about that. We stayed up until late. I played bass, guitar and drums and sang backing vocals. It’s actually a pretty good track.”
It would take The Steve Miller Band almost another five years to crack the Top 40 in the U.S. after numerous entries on The Billboard Hot 100. “The Joker” reached # 1 on January 12, 1974 and stayed in the top slot for a week. His second number one hit was “Rock ‘n Me” which topped the charts for the week of November 6, 1976. His third and final number one hit, “Abracadabra”, spent two weeks on the top of the charts during the first two weeks of September 1982. Also, Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro wrote the music and words to the hit song “Human Nature” on the famous album, while handling synthesizer chores on four tracks.
Miller’s highly popular song “Fly Like An Eagle”, which has been used in several television ad campaigns over the last forty years, just missed the mark as it stayed in the number two position for two weeks in 1977 but could not make the jump to the top slot; it was kept out of the top position by “Love Theme From ‘A Star Is Born’ (Evergreen)”, the Barbara Streisand hit she co-wrote with famed songwriter Paul Williams. The main guitar hook in “Fly Like An Eagle” was actually first used in “My Dark Hour”.
In total Miller scored nine songs in The Top 40 between 1973 and 1982. The others were “Take the Money and Run” (# 11 in 1977); “Jet Airliner” (# 8 in 1977); “Jungle Love” (# 23 in 1977); “Swingtown” ( # 17 in 1977); “Heart Like a Wheel” (# 24 in 1981).
Not wanting to release a double album, Miller released two albums within a year of each other; songs for both albums were recorded during the same studio sessions. The album Fly Like an Eagle was released in May 1976 while Book of Dreams was released in May 1977.
The Steve Miller Band was officially formed in 1966 and has had countless members in a revolving line-up since then. Longtime Miller friend Boz Scaggs was an original member of The Steve Miller Band, appearing on the first two albums and playing with the band at the famous Monterey Pop Festival, the three day festival held in June 1967. Scaggs left The Steve Miller Band in 1968 en route to a successful solo career. Scaggs’ highly successful album Silk Degrees is considered one of the top albums of the 1970’s, and spawned Top 40 hits like “Lido Shuffle” and “Lowdown”. For the Silk Degrees album and tour, Scaggs was backed up by a group of young musicians who started playing during their early high school years in the Los Angeles area. Following the tour, they went out on their own as a band under the name Toto. Five years later, their 1982 album Toto IV would win seven Grammy Awards, including “Album of the Year”, “Record of the Year”, and “Producer of the Year”. The album that would win the Grammy for “Album of the Year” the following year was Michael Jackson’s legendary Thriller. Ironically, members of Toto served as studio musicians for several of the tracks on Thriller, such as “The Girl is Mine”, the duet by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, which was the first single released from Thriller and peaked at number two on The Billboard Hot 100.
The bond between Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs goes back to high school in Dallas when Scaggs was a freshman and Miller was a sophomore at the elite St. Mark’s School of Texas. St. Mark’s was founded by Dallas businessmen who had attended elite prep schools in New England and wanted to create a school in the mold of a New England private school so that their own sons could have that type of educational experience without having to leave Dallas. While at St. Mark’s, Miller and Scaggs formed their first band which was appropriately called The Marksmen. Steve Miller went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the following year Scaggs enrolled at Madison after his graduation from St. Mark’s. A few years in back of Miller and Scaggs at St. Mark’s was future Oscar-winning actor Tommy Lee Jones, who enrolled at Harvard after graduating from St. Mark’s. Many years later actors Owen and Luke Wilson went to St. Mark’s, too. In 1969, Tommy Lee Jones was Al Gore’s real-life roommate at Harvard; the following year, after graduating, he played Ryan O’Neal’s Harvard roommate in the classic movie Love Story. However, Jones was already famous in his own right at Harvard because he was an offensive lineman on the famous 1968 Harvard football team that was 16 points down against Yale in the final minute and tied it. The headline in the Harvard Crimson was “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29”, a headline recycled as the title of the 2008 documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 about the famous 1968 game, which was directed by Kevin Rafferty.
Steve Miller deserves this induction tonight. Be assured that no media coverage of this event will mention his unique collaboration with Paul McCartney during the Beatle years.
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